Some minor changes to the division’s grade reporting policy, IKFAA, have generated a great deal of media interest.  While we suspect that the interest is the result of the original strikethrough underline version, which some might have interpreted to indicate that we were getting rid of our grade scale, the changes are minor and merely reflect our desire to further empower teachers to use their professional expertise, and to consider a student’s growth over time and most recent assessments results when determining grades.   As I explained to several reporters, there is nothing in the revised policy that prevents a teacher from doing anything he or she was doing last year with regard to grading practices.  Nor is there anything in the policy that mandates that a teacher do something completely new.  Here is a link to the actual strikethrough /underline version of the policy.   It might be helpful to have it open on your screen or print a copy to reference as you read.

The first paragraph is intended to reflect our belief that a grade is a communication tool to inform students and parents about student achievement.  It also explains that grades should be a reflection of how well students have mastered course standards at the time the grade is assigned, and in order to do so, grades should consider a student’s most recent attempts rather than a pure average of grades collected from the beginning to the end of the learning process.

You will also notice minimal changes at the end of the second paragraph.  While this might seem a bit confusing, these changes simply remove the phrase “will be recorded at the end of the first and second semester.”  While grades will still be reported at the end of each grading period and the first semester, the only grade that will become part of the student’s transcript is the final grade.  This is based on our belief that the grade that matters is the grade that reflects the level of student mastery at the end of the learning process.  While nine-week and semester grades are an important communication tool, and may influence a student’s final grade, they are not recorded as permanent marks.   For example, if a student is taking a difficult course and struggles with course standards early in the learning process, but uses the feedback and practice opportunities provided by his/her teacher, and ultimately demonstrates a high level of mastery by the end of the year, the grade he/she had at the end of any previous nine-week period or the first semester may no longer be accurate.  Nine-week and semester grades are more like mile posts than a final destination.  They communicate where you are at the time they are assigned and tell you if you are on the right track, but the final grade reflects your final destination.

However, there is no doubt that nine-week and semester grades matter and still may affect the overall grade in the course.  In many courses, there are very distinct units of study that may not be revisited later in the year.  In these cases, it would be appropriate to average performance over several units of study to arrive at an overall grade for the course, or to average grades from each grading period to determine the final grade in the course.

At the bottom of the second page,  you will notice that the grade scale for grades 6-12 is struck through and new descriptors for letter grades are added (underlined) just below the grade scale.  The new descriptors reflect our desire to remove the terms superior, above average, and average from the definitions of student performance.  We believe that these terms best describe grading systems where students are compared to each other (norm referenced/bell curve) rather than a system where student performance is judged based on predetermined criteria or standards (criterion referenced/standards based).    The new language is designed to clearly indicate that student grades should be based on how well students know and can apply course standards and skills, not how they perform compared to their peers.

Finally, you will notice the descriptors marked for deletion, some language about using mathematical averages, and the familiar grade scale. The language just before the grade scale explains that, when an average is used to determine a grade, this is the scale that should be applied.

We hope it is clear that these changes are designed to reflect our current practices based on our belief that grades should reflect students mastery of clearly-defined content standards at the time the grade is assigned, and that, in order to be most accurate, grades should strongly consider a student’s most recent attempts rather than be based solely on a pure average from the beginning to the end of the learning process.  As was previously stated, there is nothing in the revised policy that prevents a teacher from doing anything he or she was doing last year with regard to grading practices.  Nor is there anything in the policy that mandates that a teacher do something completely new.  As a final example, I asked one reporter if she would rather be judged based on her first interviews at the beginning of her career, or her most recent work.  I am sure you can guess her reply.